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An earlier question, How can I laminate with contact paper without leaving bubbles?, asked about covering books with adhesive contact paper, presumably to provide some protection. The image in the question was of clear adhesive plastic film sold for the purpose of protecting paper documents, books, etc. The specific example shown was a product called Transpaseal, which is described as:

Transpaseal book covering film. Self adhesive rolls of durable plastic film. Ideal for covering all types of books or design work.

There are other similar products, and one would assume that a product sold for the purpose of protecting books and paper documents would be designed to protect them. It ought to be possible to verify that the product is actually suitable for the purpose; e.g., the adhesive is non-acidic, and doesn't break down in long-term use, etc. Purchasers could check reviews to verify that a particular product didn't destroy other people's books or documents.

We can also assume a degree of common sense, like not gluing plastic film to an heirloom book, or one whose value depends on it being in mint condition.

An upvoted comment on the earlier question says that contact paper is a terrible method of book conservation.

If we stick to protecting non-rare books from the wear and tear of normal, regularly-occurring use, is it, in fact, a terrible method? Why? Does this apply to any and all cold adhesive lamination films, or could films of certain types/specifications be a good solution to protecting books? Would the material/construction of the book's cover make a difference in this advice?

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    Note: there was a lot of discussion about the linked question--whether protecting books is on-topic. Let's assume that a crafter is binding their own books, and applying the protective cover would be the last step of that process.
    – fixer1234
    May 13 at 2:59

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Per fixer1234's direction that we should assume the artist is binding their own books - then permanent, self adhesive cold lamination is a viable method. It is worth noting that many of these films expand and shrink with heat and cold. The artist should take care to apply the method allowing for a 1/8th of overlap in any seamed areas.

That said, were it my book I would likely avoid this method. Contact paper and even archival self-adhesive coatings are unlikely to be removed without some damage to the book. Even repositionable glues tend to stick harder the longer they are in contact with paper. If I went through the effort to create the piece, I would not want to risk any damage and would opt for Fold-On Archival Book Jackets. These adhere to themselves, and not to the book. They add rigidity and protect from minor water and scratch damage. These have the added benefit of being replaceable, so if they become scratched, faded, or yellowed, I can put on new ones and still maintain the beauty of my bound book.

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I can offer one data point in favour - the dictionary I used in school and covered with plastic film 30+ years ago shows no signs of excess acid damage (yellowing, brittleness) on the endpapers, including under the film on the insides of the covers. This appears to be good quality commercial printing paper, clearly not art paper, and shows some signs of age as well as of use.

The plastic itself shouldn't be an issue for acidity, and common glues, apart from bone glue, can easily be acid-free. If the glue was acidic I'd expect to show quite clearly by now where it's in contact with white paper. A couple of textbooks from only 25 hears ago don't show this, and the plastic may even have been from the same roll.

However even on the inside the film itself has yellowed slightly (I can't tell on the outside over the red cover with gold lettering). I pealed up a corner very gently to check it wasn't the paper.

Of course I can't tell if they've changed the formulation, but this is almost certainly what I used - own brand from the biggest UK chain of stationers, and the backing paper looks like I remember.

Note that my original use is probably the main intended use - adding toughness to protect against rough handling, spills, etc. for a few years, rather than archival (for which non adhesive films are sold), but that may have or to do with the inherent damage to the book caused by the glue.

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  • Modern Clear, flexible plastic will still yellow with time. This problem has not been fixed (and likely won't be) in any reasonable price range. That being said: what's a slight yellow tint if everthing else is perfectly preserved
    – Hobbamok
    May 13 at 12:37
  • @Hobbamok yes, it's often not an issue, but interesting that it's on plastic that's been kept dark (UV is a major cause of yellowing) and also that it's not visible on even slightly newer books
    – Chris H
    May 13 at 12:41
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    I have a bunch of discarded library books from the 1980s and 1990s with this kind of adhesive plastic, and can confirm the observations in this answer. The oldest ones I found show some minor yellowing, but otherwise they all seem fine. At least except for the ones where the plastic has worn and cracked a bit from excessive use, but I'm pretty sure they were already like that decades ago when I got them. I did notice that on some books the yellowing seems to be concentrated near the edges of the plastic, suggesting that it might have something to do with oxidization of the adhesive. May 13 at 14:19
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The specific question on the title is: "Is laminating books with adhesive plastic film a bad idea (and why)?"

I would say, this depends on the book.

If you want to protect a book that means that it has value to you. There are books that clearly need protection, like textbooks from elementary school. Although they can be reused and preserved, they also have a "limited" life expectancy. Adhesive plastic has clear advantages and will really protect the book from liquids as well as general wear and tear.

But on some other books, it would be totally out of the question. Especially hardcover books, artbooks, or encyclopedia-type. The operation is "irreversible."

I covered all my art books (soft and hardcovers) with non-adhesive plastic and very small pieces of tape, not pasted on the book, but on the plastic itself so the plastic covers fit like a "sock." After many years, the tape shrank a bit leaving a small line of glue. The plastic is now dull, but the books are, as I intended, protected.

Even with novel-like books, I would not use adhesive to cover them. Who knows, the novel you have could be a first printing and is or may become a collectible item.

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I personally do not use any methods of preserving books that's not reversible because if that protective layer becomes damaged itself, it cannot be replaced with a new one.

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